Remembering the past, focused on the future


Lexi Browning

Reverend Donte’ L. Jackson sits in a pew inside First Baptist Church on Feb. 11.

First Baptist Church, a historically black church located in the heart of Huntington, West Virginia, has been a staple place of worship in the black community for over 140 years.
With history predating 1872, while slavery was still in effect, slaves founded a place of worship located in now Norway Cemetery, in a little log cabin.
However, the little log cabin would only be the beginning of what members of First Baptist Church in the future would see.
Pastor of First Baptist Church Reverend Donte’ L. Jackson reflected on the history of this prominent place of worship.
Jackson said the civic and social justice work for the black community has been highlighted in the history of First Baptist Church.
Father of Black History Carter G. Woodson, while pursuing his education at Douglas High School, a segregated school, was one of the many prominent African Americans in history to have lived in West Virginia and to also have been a member of First Baptist Church.
Woodson, after graduating from Berea College, returned to Huntington where he became the principal of Douglas High School .
Jackson said “Black Huntington” would be a place less focused on the forward progress of black people without Woodson’s contributions.
“I perceive that the problems that would persist without Woodson’s work would be the same problems that persist had he not engaged in the study of negro life and accomplishments,” Jackson said. “That sense of self work, that sense of knowing that you come from greatness, that greatness lies within you, that you don’t have to succumb to the ills of what society tries to force feed you, but you can rise above it through education but also a knowledge of where you come from.”
“You never know who you have in your pews,” Jackson said.
Jackson said there were many prominent leaders in addition to Carter G. Woodson who were responsible for leading the First Baptist Church in the right direction in the past.
During the early 1940s, most public places including churches were segregated, causing a division among many cities, including Huntington.
Jackson said former pastor C.E. Boddie was passionate about getting black clergy and white clergy together to build a better Huntington.
More than 75 years later, after the pastorate of Boddie, Jackson recently became president of the Downtown Pastoral Association.
“This is something that could not have been possible without the work of Pastor C.E. Boddie,” Jackson said.
Many African Americans have visited and attended First Baptist Church including Reverend Jesse Jackson, Charles Smith and The Barnett family who founded the Barnett Hospital, a facility specifically for African Americans.
Though First Baptist has a rich history, Jackson said they must not get caught up in the past, but they must stay focused on the future.
“The legacy that has been left on First Baptist Church helps the future,” Jackson said. “It gives us tool to give hope to the next generation, whatever it is that you are seeking to become it starts with a foundation in faith.”
Maurice Cooley, deacon at First Baptist Church, said he believes all churches in the community have added prominence and prestige to Huntington, especially First Baptist Church, being rich of history and culture.
“Many leading people of color of Huntington have been faithful members throughout the years of First Baptist Church,” Cooley said. “It’s not that our members and people who have attended add more prominence than any other members, but we contribute to the promise and the growth of the community and continues to aspire to do that today, even with our present pastor Reverend Donte’ Jackson.”
Jackson said that the church must move forward in the coming years.
“We want to be a church that is willing to not only lean on its history but move forward to its destiny,” Jackson said. “You can’t have this much greatness happen in one place and it not mean something. It has to point to something.”
Darius Booker can be contacted at [email protected]